In Melbourne, a city full of food and obsessed by coffee, I cook, I eat, I share the good news and the bad. essjay eats

Pope Joan

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There are times when I am very grateful for my mother’s approach to feeding my family as I was growing up.  Alhough Dad’s parents were British and Australian (4th or 5th gen); and my Mum was 6th Gen White Australian, we rarely ate the kind of food my friends often complain about – “English Style Coooking”.   The kind of cooking many of us grew up with – overcooked vegetables, grey roasts, soggy puddings and spam.

Thanks largely due to the Margaret Fulton Cookbook we had a varied diet of fried rice, curry (albeit with sultanas and Keen’s curry powder), pink lamb, lasagne and whatever took my mum’s fancy. So it’s interesting for me to “discover” traditional English foods through the, admitedly distorted, lens of Heston Blumenthal and, closer to home Matt Wilkinson.

And I’m liking what I see, and taste.

I guess many of you will know Matt from his days at Circa The Prince, where he worked with Andrew McConnell before taking over the kitchen.  A refit of the restaurant took the dining room into the courtyard space, and brought the kitchen garden inside.  We ate there earlier this year.

Matt is known for sourcing his ingredients locally and starting a kitchen garden at Circa, then continuing the theme to Pope Joan in Brunswick.

Nettle and Sorrell OmeletteNettle and Sorrel Omelette (from the garden) served with Meredith Feta

I reckon Matt likes his local farmers; I remember watching him walk out of the Collingwood Childrens’ Farm  Farmers’ Market one morning at around opening time, carrying a box of marvellous produce, cheeky grin on his face as we “mere mortals” were still queueing to get in. I haven’t seen many happier faces around I have to admit, and that’s what makes Matt’s cooking stand out for me.  He is absolutely committed to sourcing local and sustainable produce.

There’s a kitchen garden out the back of Pope Joan, which is located on a pretty uninspiring stretch of Nicholson street, south of RRR, north of Brunswick Road.

Although Matt seems to  hark for the “olden” days – having written pieces on “jugging” hare and making preserves, his approach to traditional foods is anything but old fashioned.  Meet the “new fashioned” traditional British breakfast.

Not So Big Breakfast

Not so big English Breakfast” Melbourne Pantry bacon, Green Eggs, Sausage and beans.

Pope Joan is a breakfast / lunch place, sitting firmly in the cafe space, but a cafe with a difference. The menu reads like a restaurant menu, the vibe is casual and sunny, the staff are  switched on and efficient and smartly dressed in olive and black. And they take cards… oh yes they do!

There’s a communal table in one corner and a bench along the other front window underneath the specials board.  The lunch specials have featured a truffled Clarines cheese, asparagus done a zillion different ways and salads, along with some heartier fare.

Pope Joan

There is pile of books about Pope Joan at the register, not much around but some fairly industrial neighbours, a large outdoor dining area undercover and heated, a moosehead, and a chandelier.  How does this all come together again?

Ahh yes, the food. Maybe drawing on Matt’s memories of South Yorkshire breakfasts, there are coddled eggs, and corned beef fritters, soft and fragrant blood pudding from Pacdon and homemade HP sauce. And kedgeree.  Yes, kedgeree.  A few words about the kedgeree.


I wouldn’t normally order a kedgeree.  I don’t eat a lot of fish, and even less (well, no) smoked fish. This kedgeree is based on a light, al dente serve of saffron rice, with lots of smoked fish and hard boiled eggs stirred through.  It’s topped with baby coriander and mint, yogurt and a sprinkling of fried shallots. I know- it starts off English then swings right over there to Asian. And I loved it.  The freshness of the herbs kept me tasting it, and tasting it again. Other, more traditional (and English) friends have been disappointed that it hasn’t been baked to give it a crispy crusty bit.

The bacon and egg in a roll with homemade HP is served on a paper bag, coddled eggs with black pudding are combined with an anchovy salad, Corned Beef fritters and a fried egg are offset by a celeriac remoulade.  If the food had been this good at home … well.

And did I mention .. breakfast dessert?  Sweet cooked rice, mixed with whipped cream and topped with mango.  Banana bread toasted and served with strawberry cream. Yes, leave room.  Or come for morning tea. Or lunch?  Delicious sandwiches. Traditional, with a twist.

Rice Pudding with MangoCreamed Rice. But not how I remember it.

They serve good Allpress coffee, and Ben Foster (Matt’s partner in all this) ensures the floor runs smoothly.  I’ve visited a number of times now and have only had one short wait for a table, but the place is never really empty that I can tell, but they are open from 7:30 am which is a godsend for those of us who need an EARLY coffee.  I’ve been there when Matt’s been cooking, and when he’s not.  There is a certain urgency in the kitchen when one of the bosses in on the pans, but I didn’t notice any difference in the quality of the food.

So go, relax and enjoy.  It’s like the food your nanna never made you.

But Matt, what ever happened to the Spam fritter, mushy peas, mustard fruits and fried egg you tweeted about?

Pope Joan

77-79 Nicholson Street

Brunswick East

9388 8858

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14 thoughts on “Pope Joan

  • Cheers for that.

    Comment from: The Brewers Wife

  • Hi Karen and welcome to essjayeats. That remoulade is just delicious isn’t it? The perfect foil to the salty corned beef. I don’t mind a red hill brew while we’er at it 🙂 Your verandah is pretty special. Cheers SJ

    Comment from: essjayeats

  • Lovely post. I was just there a few weeks ago also, and loooved my corned beef bubble & squeak, especially the little side of remoulade and watercress. Your photos are fantastic. cheers.

    Comment from: The Brewers Wife

  • Thank you Queenotisblue, bit of a tribute to my mum I guess. I don’t know about Ellen Sinclair, will have to look her up. There was most definitely hard boiled egg in my kedgeree. I read there wasn’t any in yours… so wrong. Perhaps they just missed it that time?

    Comment from: essjayeats

  • Lovely post and sweet reminder that Anglo-Australian cooking wasn’t always a culinary disaster. Margaret Fulton and Ellen Sinclair cookbooks in the kitchen are a strong memory from my childhood.

    The kedgeree – I’m glad you posted a photo showing that there’s boiled egg in it. I thought I was going a bit mad when mine arrived without.

    Comment from: Queenotisblue

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Suzanne Farrell and Faith Hunter, Sarah Robins. Sarah Robins said: @essjayeff Damn & blast you woman my mouth is now watering for another Pope Joan excursion […]

    Pingback from: Tweets that mention Pope Joan » essjayeats --

  • Thanks jaybeen, the new camera is getting a bit of work…will look at Niche next time I’m down that way.

    Comment from: essjayeats

  • Nice Pics – will drop by after a Sunday ride when I need more than a Cadel Evans Winners bar. Little cafe called Niche (next to Smart Alec on Smith St) might be worth a look.

    Comment from: jaybeen

  • @lisette, it’s an easy cycle from your place. Turn south at RRR 🙂

    @Mellie. thank you m’dear. I’ve been sneaking in on Sundays for the last couple of months. I thought of you when it came time to try the nettle and sorrel omelette.

    @injera 96 tram route, one stop before the terminus so you can’t go too far passed it! The corned beef hash was soft and salty and meltingly tender….

    Comment from: essjayeats

  • I’m one of those whose experiences of “English style cooking” is overcooked veg and dried out meat… except for when we ate at our Gran’s, which is where I developed an abiding love for corned beef that I haven’t been able to truly satisfy since she died. So, yes, you had me at the corned beef fritters, but I’m also a kedgeree fan so I guess I’m just going to have to head out there to give Pope Joan a try.

    Comment from: Injera

  • Hi Steve, long time reader, first time commenter? You know – I think you’re right about the staff, they manage to be cool and efficient without being hipsters or too-cool….or as you say, knobends 🙂 But yes, finding somewhere where people care, but aren’t attitude-ridden is hard. I’m looking forward to making that covered laneway a second home in summer. Thanks for dropping by!

    Comment from: essjayeats

  • Hi Essjay-nice post.
    Went there on my last visit to Melbs, nursing the mother of all hangovers by meeself. Staff were very chirpy, friendly and cool without being knob-ends about it. My observations in Melb cafes of late is that many are a bit full on with the attitude-but then I am getting old.
    Loved the brekkie, not so full english etc. Coffee excellent, space welcoming, loved the covered laneway. In a city with so many operators competing, this cafe stands out for all the right reasons IMO.

    Comment from: Steve

  • Lovely nostalgic post Ms.Essjay. I still can’t believe I haven’t been there yet…

    Mmm…the nettle and sorrel omelette looks right up my alley!

    Comment from: mellie

  • adding this one to my list…

    Comment from: lisette

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